Chris Jasper/LONDON

British Midland (BM) has emerged as a potential first European airline customer for the Boeing 717 twinjet. Chairman Sir Michael Bishop suggests the carrier might opt for the aircraft if Boeing can be persuaded to develop it as a family, including a smaller shrink model.

The UK airline, already an Airbus A320 family customer, is also seriously considering the Boeing twinjet's rival A318 as it ponders the replacement of its nine 74/107-seat Fokker 70/100s. Bishop is adamant that the Fokkers will not be replaced by regional jets, but says renewal through the acquisition of further used Fokker aircraft remains a possibility.

Boeing inherited the 717 as the MD-95 following the take-over of McDonnell Douglas. It is the direct successor to the DC-9, an aircraft once operated by BM and one Bishop says it would have retained were it not for noise regulations. Bishop says the 717 would be even more attractive if Boeing was to confirm plans for the proposed 80-seat, short fuselage 717-100.

BM finance director Nigel Turner says a delegation recently visited Boeing's Long Beach site to study the 717, and also discussed the 767-300ER for planned transatlantic routes.

A visit was also made to lessor ILFC to purchase three Boeing 737-500s that BM leases, Turner reveals. It is understood that ILFC raised the possibility of the carrier taking some of the 30 A318s for which it has commitments.

Turnover of £558.8 million ($900 million) for last year was a record, up 3%, although pre-tax profits were slightly down, to £11.02 million. Bishop says the results were achieved despite "weaker trading conditions", adding that a year-on-year comparison is complicated by a £4 million loss last year from the launch of London Heathrow-Manchester services and a £4-5 million gain in 1997 from a British Airways strike.

Turner says BM is likely to enter a period of consolidation following the transatlantic launch, having expanded rapidly domestically and within Europe over the last 10-15 years. Only last week the UK confirmed the award of the Heathrow-Moscow route to the carrier, ahead of Virgin Atlantic. The planned US services will be codeshared with a partner, most likely Star Alliance leader United Airlines.

Source: Flight International